AS soon as I was able to
walk, an old man taught me the rabbit dance, for, like every other boy,
I was called a Pho-ly-yoh-yeh—“rabbit,” though not born a Kiowa. The
girls as well as the boys took part in the dance. They formed a circle,
imitated the peculiar motions of the rabbit, and with the first two
fingers of each hand kept time to the beat of the tom-tom.
I was hardly able to walk
when they put me on horseback alone—a common sport with the child. The
men picked out some sleepy, trusty old nag for the mount, and the
onlookers thought it great fun to see the small rider clutch frantically
at the mane as the horse was whipped up. If the child fell off, the hurt
never amounted to much. But he rarely fell off. His tiny hands clutched
the mane so tightly, they helped him keep his seat.
When I had learned to
manage a horse, Father took me with him. It was always a great delight
to me to be awakened by Father’s calling me to hurry. That meant that I
was to go with him. Out from under the robes I would scramble, mount my
horse and follow along after him, my heart proud of the privilege.
Shortly after we had made
camp in a new country, we were out together. Father asked me suddenly in
what direction camp lay. I did not know. He told me where, explaining
how he knew. He told me how to find my way when the sun is hidden.
“When you leave camp,
know from what direction blows the wind. Know by the grass, by the
leaves, by the clouds, if it changes. If they do not tell you, still the
wind breathes. Wet your finger. Hold it up. Where it begins to dry, the
breath of the wind has dried it.”
Then he pinched my ear. I
thought his nails would go clear through the lobe. I did not cry out. I
did not make a sound. I did not dare. I was learning to be a man. I set
my teeth and listened to Father saying:
“This is not to punish
you. It is to make you remember. Always make your eyes big. Not only
look at things, but see them. Make your ears wide. Not only hear things,
but listen to them.”
In the sand near a stream
he noticed a moccasin track. He told me to dismount and examine it
carefully—to note its shape, to look for its every peculiarity.
That night, when we were
resting in the tepee, besides the blazing sticks, I was called upon to
relate everything that I could remember having seen and heard; I had to
tell the different directions in which we had travelled and the quarter
the wind was in; to describe the prairie, the hills, the streams and
their banks, just where wooded, just where bare; and, after many other
details, I finally had to attempt to draw the shape of the
moccasin-track that we had seen in the sand. On the floor of the tepee I
drew it with my finger. When I got it wrong Father corrected me,
explaining that it was a Comanche track and that no two prairie tribes
had the same shaped moccasin.
Sometimes in our
wanderings, we would dismount at the edge of a stream where animals had
been to drink. Singling out a deer’s track, Father would ask me to tell
him the length of time which had elapsed since it had been made. Or,
pointing to the pebbles, would ask me why their upper surface was of a
lighter colour than their under sides.
Indeed, from everything
beneath, around and above, were drawn the lessons that were taught me.
Early I learned how to
cure myself of nervousness— “buck ague.” Came my first chance to shoot a
deer. A fine buck appeared in an opening in the forest. In the act of
firing under Father’s gaze, I trembled like an aspen leaf.
“Bite your finger on the
nail—hard,” he whispered. Quickly I obeyed. The immediate pain centred
my mind, and the buck went down under my steady aim. To this day, if I
find myself nervous in hunting, I use this means to bring steadiness.
Once on a hunting trip in
the mountains, we heard a voice which greatly puzzled us. It was a low
murmuring sound something like um-um-um-m-m-m!
We would travel in the
direction from which it seemed to come, when presently it would seem to
be in another direction. It apparently changed locality so often, I
began to think it must be an evil spirit seeking to do us harm. It would
stop for a little while and then begin again, um-um-um-m-m-m!
Frightened, I kept close
to Father, glad to remember that he was a great hunter and warrior.
Finally, Father sat down
under a tree and thought for a long time. Then he said,
“Boy, this is a strange
sound to me. At first I thought it the voice of the wind speaking
through the splinters of a storm-torn treetop. It is not Never have I
heard anything like it”
I asked him if he thought
it was an evil spirit.
“It must be,” he replied.
“We have walked into weariness.”
And weariness lies in the
trail not of kindly but of evil spirits. Surely the sound was one of
them, for with good eyes and good ears we had not been able to locate
Presently we heard it
again. Father put his ear close to the ground, where he could hear it
more distinctly. Then he rose and together we began to walk in a circle
among the trees. At last Father stopped close to a big tree, and with
his ear against the trunk, declared that the sound was somewhere in its
top. It was a tree of immense girth and height and with dense foliage.
From every side I looked up into it to discover eventually what made my
heart jump almost out of my mouth.
Close to the top and but
partially hidden among the leaves, was a great black something. I
pointed it out to Father. When he had taken one glance at it, he sat
down at the root of the tree and shook with silent laughter.
The thing that had
uttered the strange, weird sound was a big black bear. He was busy
robbing a bees’ nest, and the bees, resenting the intrusion into their
storehouse, were busy assailing him. Whenever they attacked his nose,
the robber dashed his paw against it, and the strange, nasal murmur was
Father shouted up. We
looked for the bear to come crashing down—the usual habit when shouted
at—but he was too busy with his sweetmeat So he only tipped his head a
bit to peer down at us.
“You thief!” cried
Father. “You thief! Worse even than an Apache! The poor little bees work
so hard for their honey. You coward! to steal their' sweetmeat! You
enemy! Come down! Not a blood-drop shall stay in your sneaking body.
I want your skin to sleep
on; I want your tongue to feast on!”
The robber seemed to
listen to all Father had to v say, but apparently he had no notion of
accepting the invitation. Then Father raised his rifle and fired.
The thief came tumbling
down through the branches, \ and the thud with which he landed gave
ground for 1 believing that the fall had broken every bone in his body.
Father rushed forward
with his knife. The bear struck him in the breast and sent him
sprawling. Instantly he was on his feet and running for his gun. He had
leaned it, unloaded, against a tree.
The bear was on his feet,
too, and not many paces behind Father, who kept the tree between them as
he tried vainly to pour a charge of powder into the gun.
Round and round the tree
they went, and I dug out through the woods. Then Father took after me,
“Come back! Bring your
He was getting out of
breath and the bear was closing up on him.
“Quick!” he shouted,
“your gun, breech first!”
I obeyed as rapidly as my
frightened feet could carry me.
When he snatched my gun
and fired, the bear was so close the powder burned his neck. The
creature dropped dead in his tracks. We found the first shot had grazed
his skull. It had stunned him just enough to bring him down. We also
found we had as trophy one of the biggest beasts of his kind.
I shouted with joy. But
father did not speak a joy like that I spoke.
“Boy,” said he, “they
call me mighty hunter. With my bow I drive an arrow into a buffalo till
the point sticks out on the other side. Yet I let our brother-bear
outwit me. I let him knock me down. Me— Zepkhoeete! I felt myself too
sure I hit the spot I aimed at. I let myself forget to load my gun.
Even Zepkhoeete—tried and
mighty hunter—can be taught!”
“And you, boy, you ran,”
he went on sternly. “Never do that again. Never feel fear.”
Then he spoke more
“Unarmed I have met the
wild things of the forest.
With unflinching eye upon
them, I have walked around and away. They do not follow him who feels no
The instant you feel
that, the wild thing knows it.
That instant you are his.
“Remember my mistakes.
Remember, too, my care to study out the brother-bear’s queer voice. Make
your ears true in the forest. There are creatures that cry in the voices
of those they seek to kill and devour.
The panther cries like a
child, like a woman in distress, like a man who halloos.”
Of such sort was the
training and education my father gave me.
Like any child I gleaned
many lessons unconsciously.
I cannot remember when I
first knew that the paints we used had a colour meaning. Yellow was the
sacred colour. For certain religious ceremonies it was put not
only on the face but over the whole body. Red and ,, other bright tints
told that the wearer’s heart was glad and that he was in trim to attend
a feast or !' friendly dance. Streaks of black in addition meant, 1
readiness for the war trail. Black alone was the sign \ of mourning. '
To this day I dislike to
recall some of the memories associated with that all-black paint. Like
any other child I was interested in the burial ceremonies—particularly
those of a warrior. I liked to watch the men put up the scaffolding
poles out on the prairie; I liked to watch them wrap the dead warrior in
his robes, and lay beside him his trappings of war and the food he would
need on the Long Dark Trail. I liked to see the men relatives appear
with their hair cut. On one side of the head it was always cut even with
the lower part of the ear. This was a mark of mourning.
I did not like to see the
burning of the dead man’s things or the killing of his horses,
especially his war pony which was always shot beside the scaffolding, to
be ready for the first call of his master.
I did not like the
chanting of the funeral dirge, and to-day I fight off the vision of the
women seated on the ground and gashing themselves across the breast and
arms; of a mother cutting off a finger-joint in token of the loss of a
son or brother, and coaxing the spirit to stay near and comfort her. And
to-day I fight off the sound of the wailing.
Never in all my varied
experiences among white men have I ever seen or heard anything to exceed
the expressions of our Indian women’s grief. Their heartrending wails
would smite the heart of any listener and lay upon it a weight never to
be forgotten. I have known a bereft mother to break out into wails of
grief many years after the death of a child and to cry and mourn for
From the stories told in
the fireshine of the long winter evenings I learned what the warriors
had learned on the hunt and the warpath. Their return meant the
narration of every incident that took place from the time they left
home. But principally I learned how friend or foe was painted, how he
was dressed, how his hair was arranged; what was the shape of his
moccasin tracks; whether he camped in the timber or on the prairie—all
of which set forth the tribe to which he belonged, as well as the
purpose of his mission. So, every boy had a pretty good idea of the game
he was to hunt and the foes he would face, long before the years fitted
him for hunter and warrior.